+ "Avenue Montaigne": Either "breezy but inconsequential" (Nick Schager at Slant) or "a humble pleasure" (Manohla Dargis at the New York Times), the latest film from DaniÃ¨le Thompson, last seen in the US with her 2002 film "Jet Lag", was a hit in France and the country’s submission for Best Foreign Language Film. The film seems to either charm or overcharm â€” the most fond may be Andrew O’Hehir at Salon, who calls the film "a delicious French pastry, tart and sweet, steeped in Parisian glamour." Others sum it up as a success in its own small way: Lisa Schwarzbaum at Entertainment Weekly notes, not unkindly, that the film is "soap-bubbly"; Ella Taylor at the Village Voice writes that "Avenue Montaigne doesn’t pretend to be deep, but it’s precise about the way people of privilege define themselves by what they lack or long for more than what they have, or have done." At indieWIRE, Nick Pinkerton allows that "The craftsmanship is unexceptional, with the use of Scope particularly inexplicable, and the film’s finally more pleasant than funny – you could call it fluff and you’d be right. But it stays within its own modest boundaries, so why get peevish?"
While it seems no one would bother to argue heatedly over this film, here’s the mild-mannered main disagreement. Schager:
The director refuses to insistently overplay her tale’s comedic and dramatic ingredients, though Avenue Montaigne’s relaxed, frothy lightness is at once appealingly low-key and more than a bit slight, with the various coincidences and dilemmas inoffensive to the point of having scant impact at all.
It would be easy to dismiss the film for its lack of heft, for the deaf ear and blind eye it has apparently turned to the world, but only if you mistook this self-conscious fairy tale for a slice of realism or forgot about Jessica. â€œAvenue Montaigneâ€ is a bonbon, not a bouillabaisse. But because this is finally a film about desire, it carries a bittersweet tang.
+ "Bamako": We found Abderrahmane Sissako‘s film about putting the World Bank, IMF et al. on trial in a Malian courtyard problematic when we saw it at the New York Film Festival (review here) â€” most of the critical community does not, save Scott Tobias at the Onion AV Club, who cautions that "[t]he central conceit is audacious, but the film feels oddly slack and inert, livened only by testimony better suited to another forum."
Nathan Lee, writing at the Village Voice, has an interesting view of the "Bamako" as responding to the tropes of the "festival film" â€” though we wouldn’t agree at all that films are foremost bound to speak to the audiences of their countries of origin. Similarly, Andrew O’Hehir at Salon claims that "you can criticize ‘Bamako’ for all sorts of reasons, but good luck finding any that it doesn’t cover itself" â€” he goes on to write that
By any logical assessment, this mixture of apparently incompatible ingredients should collapse into an incoherent hash. But "Bamako" is so ferociously intelligent and cannily constructed that its warring elements all support each other.
A.O. Scott at the New York Times acknowledges that "’Bamako’ can be described as didactic, which simply means that it overtly tries to use film to teach. But there is also another dimension to the movie, an attention to the details of daily life in Bamako that lends it extraordinary richness and gravity." Jeff Reichert at indieWIRE contrasts the film with recent glossy American outrage efforts like Edward Zwick‘s "Blood Diamond," finding that "Bamako" both "offers a refreshingly multifaceted view" and "represents a powerful protest." Even Armond White, over at the New York Press, proclaims that "By specifying the public ritual of trial and protest, Bamako breaks through the cultural naivete that makes people think movies like Black Hawk Down, The Constant Gardener and Blood Diamond (with the exception of Djimon Hounsouâ€™s eloquent anguish) have anything to do with Africa." He does allow that there is at least one occasion in which "Sissako risks devolving into propaganda."